On Nov. 3, 2017, the WRC held a silent candlelight vigil followed by a gathering for conversation in order to show solidarity with those who have been affected by sexual assault and sexual harassment. The Women’s Resource Center sought to ensure that the #metoo campaign would extend beyond its influence on social media.
Attendees lit candles in the WRC courtyard before having a moment of silence for victims. Afterwards, they headed inside to the WRC to engage in a conversation about the effects of the campaign.
The campaign began shortly after the “New York Times” published an investigative report on sexual misconduct allegations against prominent film producer Harvey Weinstein in October 2017. The report ignited the national viral #metoo campaign that would give voice to women who were victims of sexual misconduct. Though the #metoo campaign initially began in response to the numerous allegations against Weinstein, other leading men in Hollywood, such as Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoffman, have found themselves facing similar claims of sexual misconduct.
According to Shá Duncan Smith, dean of diversity inclusion and director of the WRC, the candlelight vigil was organized as a joint project between the WRC and the Title IX office.
“The #metoo vigil came about as an effort by different thought partners such as the WRC associates and the Title IX office. Together, we [the WRC and the Title IX office] talked about the #metoo campaign as a whole and how we think about the skill sets that are needed to proactively do a paradigm shift in the culture,” Smith said.
Lucy Jones ’20, a WRC associate, believes that the WRC vigil raised awareness about both the #metoo campaign and about the presence of the center on campus.
“I think for most people there was really a sense of community that was built online from the #metoo campaign. The WRC felt the need to bring that to a physical space because one of our main goals is to make a space on campus that is open to not just women but people of all genders,” Jones said.
The WRC has had a role on campus for nearly 40 years and provides a safe space where students can study, bake, speak to associates, and attend college-sponsored events. By addressing the #metoo campaign, the WRC promoted the awareness of sexual misconduct on campus and rallied even those who were not involved in the social media movement.
“I don’t know a lot about the campaign but I wanted to come tonight to show up and show my support for anyone who’s dealt with issues like sexual assault, sexual misconduct, or sexual based violence,” Meghan Kelly ’18, an attendee of the vigil, said. “Specifically, I was thinking about my role as an RA on campus and how it’s important for me to reach out to everyone in the Swarthmore community.”
Keton Kakkar ’19 attended due to the soothing atmosphere that the vigil provided.
“I enjoy candles and vigils and think they are conducive to reflection on serious issues,” Kakkar said. “There is something beautiful and communal about standing in a circle with people and holding a flame.”
Though some students attended because of the environment the vigil provided, Smith expressed sentiments about how the objectives of the WRC on campus relate to the vigil and the recent movement, noting that the movement also has the potential to positively change the current culture surrounding the treatment of sexual misconduct victims.
“I was excited about looking at [the #metoo campaign] as a way to change the culture. We’re sort of socialized to accept certain things in relation to language and action,” said Smith. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. It’s not just about us as individuals but about how the ‘me too’ affects everyone collectively.”
Moving forward, the WRC has further plans to create a safe environment and inclusive community on campus. The Title IX Office, in collaboration with the WRC, is introducing a campaign about the value of healthy relationships on campus.
“One of the things the Title IX office is doing with the WRC is focusing on healthy relationships and healthy communities. As a college, let’s take a look at these unhealthy relationships and how it affects the building of a healthy community,” Smith said. “We can’t have an inclusive community without healthy relationships.”
While the WRC strives to make campus a more safe and inclusive place, the #metoo campaign shows that progress remains to be made. The vigil held by the WRC highlights how students seek to promote awareness by standing in solidarity with the victims of #metoo.
In an email sent on Sept. 22, President Valerie Smith assured students, faculty and staff that college IX policy would remain in effect despite the rescission of Obama-era guidelines for college investigations of sexual misconduct, which was announced earlier that day by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
New interim guidelines will let colleges and universities set the standard of evidence in student sexual assault investigations, according to U.S. News. Smith emphasized that while the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter and 2014 Q&A will be nullified — policies that require colleges to use the lowest standard of proof when adjudicating sexual assault cases — Title IX itself will remain in full effect. She affirmed that Swarthmore policies will continue to demonstrate the principles of the college and will not be altered to match the shift in national policy.
“Swarthmore College remains wholly committed to upholding equality and freedom from all forms of discrimination and harassment. Our college policies … are based on our own values and reflective of law, guidance, and best practice,” Smith wrote.
Violence Prevention Educator and Survivor Advocate Nina Harris echoed Smith’s statement, asserting that Swarthmore would not change its standard of evidence required to find an accused student guilty of sexual assault and that the college makes policy decisions according to its own values.
“What you may see change is the level of commitment and investment at some institutions [that] were only acting under government pressure. This has never been the impetus nor basis for our work here at Swarthmore,” said Harris.
According to Title IX coordinator Kaaren Williamsen, the Title IX office reviews its policies routinely every summer.The Sexual Harassment/Assault Resources and Education (SHARE) website, on which the Sexual Assault and Harassment Policy is outlined, states that over 30 adjustments have been made since 2013.
“Swarthmore is committed to providing a fair investigation and adjudication process and our annual reviews provide an opportunity to assure that we are staying current with any new laws, Department of Education guidance, best practice, and community feedback,” Williamsen said.
One 2013 adjustment Williamsen highlighted was a shift in the college’s model for adjudicating student-student sexual assault cases to one that is overseen by an external adjudicator. According to the SHARE site, one adjudicator is a former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice who has experience in cases involving sexual violence.
“The external adjudicators are well trained and experienced, and the college felt that the use of an external adjudicator … provided more privacy for the parties since the case would not be heard by a panel comprised of campus community members,” Williamsen said.
Janice Luo ’19 suggested that the Title IX office respond to the changes to national guidance by being more transparent and visible.
“I think that a lot of students aren’t actually informed on how Title IX works or how it is utilized at colleges … maybe the first step of the office is to clarify to the students what their role has been and what their values are,” she said.
Luo, who is a member of the recently appointed Ad Hoc Committee on Wellbeing, Belonging, and Social Life, described the committee as one of several spaces on campus that seeks to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students despite potential threats incurred by changes to national policies.
“I think it’s fitting … that we’re creating this extra measure for students and faculty to make our space safe, sort of like a countermeasure to the Trump administration and things like Title IX [changes],” Luo said.
Interim Title IX Fellow Raven Bennett works closely with Harris to organize workshops, events, and training sessions on topics such as bystander intervention and supporting survivors. She said that the Title IX staff will continue to plan and host these events in spite of changes to national policy.
“We are always organizing these events with the aim to prevent sexual violence or support survivors. Regardless of any changes in Title IX, we will continue to provide programming with that aim,” Bennett said.
She urged members of the community to attend a new training series centered on sexual health and violence prevention topics called Training Tuesdays.
“I highly recommend that community members attend these trainings because it is on all of us to strive to make this community a safer, more inclusive place,” Bennett said.
In her email, Smith summarized the college’s commitment to violence prevention, safety, and inclusion.
“The college recognizes that all who live, work, and learn on our campus are responsible for ensuring that the community is free from discrimination based on sex or gender, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other forms of sexual misconduct. These behaviors threaten our learning, living, and work environments; we are actively working towards fostering a violence-free community,” she wrote.
The Title IX office will inform community members of any additional changes to national Title IX guidance or policy.
While the future of Title IX on college campuses is uncertain, Swarthmore says it will continue to enact policies that reflect principles such as equality and fairness.
I remember the first time it happened like it was yesterday. It was my first relationship here at Swarthmore. He was drunk, as was I. He wanted to do sexual things with me, but I was hesitant. We had only been dating a short time, and I had never done anything so intimate with anyone before, yet here we were, both drunk messes. I told him no. He kept badgering me. I felt extremely uncomfortable. It almost felt as if he was entitled to my body because we were in a relationship. I kept resisting, but he wouldn’t respond to it. We were in his bed, and he forced himself on me. He finished. I felt weak. He felt guilty.
Was this what it meant to be intimate with someone?
It wasn’t until that summer that I realized what really happened. I was sexually assaulted by my ex-partner. I was naïve and had no idea what to do. I didn’t feel comfortable reporting it. I didn’t even feel comfortable telling my closest friends here at Swarthmore. I had already broken up with him, so he was a finished chapter in my life. I thought that any allegations of assault after the fact would only make me look bad. I felt compelled to “forgive” him after the events happened, but yet I had not really forgiven him, nor did I forget. How could I?
Flash forward to the beginning of this school year. I ran into him on campus, and I was filled not only with feelings of helplessness but also anger. People had to know. I worked up the courage to tell my closest friends, and I was met with mixed responses. While some were genuinely concerned about my well-being, others said, “Are you sure it was assault? I mean, you were dating each other and under the influence…” Even my-then best friend was hesitant to believe me. “I understand, but you didn’t report it, so is this just you being angry for no reason?” I was left in utter silence.
We’re not friends anymore. At all. He’s now close friends with my assailant.
Then there was the night that took me back to how I felt the first time it happened. This time the assailant was a person who I thought was a close friend of mine. I was taken back to the exact same feelings of helplessness, anguish, and anger. The situation felt exactly the same as the first. We were both drunk. Advances were made. I resisted. He got angry. I was angry, too. Not only at him, but at myself. How could I have let this happened again?
Responses to my second experience were the same. There was more concern, but there were certain responses from an individual that made me feel exactly how my ex-friend made me feel. “Well, I mean, you were both drunk. You both knew what you were doing. I told you to be careful.” No sympathy. I ended up distancing myself greatly from this assailant and the “friend” who defended him, but a run-in with the assailant at a party made me feel very uncomfortable.
It was obvious he was intoxicated. I was getting anxious. I needed to leave to go outside, but my friend stopped to say hi to everyone, and I could not believe that this was happening after what I told them what he did to me. “Well, he’s a really good friend to me. I just can’t say hi to him!” My sexual assault experience was only “valid” when I told them about it and not when they needed to support me by avoiding my assailant. Gotcha.
I did not foresee having to deal with one experience with sexual assault, much less two. It was not just the experiences that fucked with my head, but what happened afterwards from people whom I thought were my friends. They dealt with my experiences in the most insensitive way. My assailants were chosen over me. My experiences were not valid enough. My friendship was not valid enough.
When the “Swat Protects Rapists” posters went up, I could not help but think, “It isn’t only Swat administration.” People who are close to abusers, while knowing damn well what they have done, also protect rapists. They ignore their past because, “Oh, that’s strange, I haven’t seen that side of them.” No shit, but that does not give you the right to protect their bad and disgusting behavior. Acknowledge the wrongs they committed. Hold them accountable. Don’t devalue someone’s experiences. I was neglected in these ways from individuals that I thought were my friends.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Why hasn’t this person reported these situations?” I feel like the process would not go in my favor. Being a gay man on this campus is hard enough. There’s already preconceived notions of sexual assault between two men. “Are you sure?” “Men aren’t supposed to do that with other men.” “That’s just sick.” Even if Swarthmore is a “progressive campus,” there are still issues that Swarthmore loves to cover up. I have to live with seeing both individuals regularly on campus, knowing that even if I did try and report it, Swarthmore will not do anything. This needs to change. Everything needs to change about the way that sexual assault is handled on campus. No one should feel like they can’t report. Every victim’s voice needs to be heard, loud and clear.
“I had that feeling you get —there is no word for this feeling— when you are simultaneously happy and sad and angry and grateful and accepting and appalled and every other possible emotion, all smashed together and amplified. Why is there no word for this feeling?
Perhaps because the word is “healing” and we don’t want to believe that. We want to believe healing is purer and more perfect, like a baby on its birthday. Like we’re holding it in our hands. Like we’ll be better people than we’ve been before. Like we have to be.”
Cheryl Strayed, “Tiny Beautiful Things”
The 3rd annual Voices of Healing event will take place this Sunday, April 23 at 7:30 pm. Voices takes place at twilight in the Amphitheater (Rain Location: Upper Tarble) and is an opportunity for anyone at Swarthmore who has been harmed by sexual assault, unhealthy or abusive relationships, or non-consensual sexual experiences, whether or not they identify as a “survivor,” as well as significant others, allies, relatives, and friends, to openly share their stories and journeys of healing. These stories come in the form of written reflections, poetry, journal entries, dances or songs, meaningful passages that resonate with one’s personal experience, and more.
Voices of Healing was started three years ago as a collaboration between student activists and volunteers, the violence prevention educator/advocate, the Women’s Resource Center (WRC), and the Title IX House in response to wanting to provide a space where people could tell stories to reduce the isolation that often accompanies being impacted by sexual and intimate partner violence. As Gloria Steinem said, “Every social justice movement that I know of has come out of people sitting in…groups, telling their life stories, and discovering that other people have shared similar experiences.”
As this storytelling event has grown, we have received a lot of questions about the word “healing” and what feelings are “allowed” at this event. Like the quote above, we do not believe healing is perfect and pure. Rather, it is complex and multifaceted. It can include (but is not limited to): anger, sadness, trauma, depression, and fear. It can also include (but is not limited to): connection, gratitude, acceptance, and hope.
We have seen these same tensions—what is healing? Is there a “right” way to heal? What is surviving? Is there a “right” way to survive? —all year long in the students that we’ve worked with, many of whom identify as survivors themselves. Several weeks ago, the 10-12 members of our Title IX Student Advisory Team had an emotional conversation about healing and the goals of events like Voices. What happens when we, as members of the same campus community, assign different meanings to the idea of “healing?” What happens when we require different things to survive? What happens when some of us are proud of the progress that has happened at Swarthmore, and others of us are angry and disappointed about change that is yet to come, and many of us feel both?
What we came to realize through our conversations is that Voices of Healing is a space for any and all of these feelings. It is a space to acknowledge that healing looks a little more like this:
[visual representations of how complex and non-linear the healing process can be]
And a LOT less like this:
[steadily rising and consistent line graph]
Most of all, it is a space to practice being a supportive community. To listen and learn from one another. To hear stories and experiences that may be silenced. To acknowledge the complexity of surviving when difficult things happen to us. To be in awe of the depth and courage of those students and community members we share campus with every day.
Please join us this Sunday, April 23 at 7:30 pm in the Amphitheater (Rain Location: Upper Tarble) to give voice to the struggles and triumphs of healing, in all of its complexity, and to help contribute to a more supportive, thoughtful, and loving Swarthmore.
We do not often have opportunities at Swarthmore for people to be their most bare, vulnerable selves and to be “held”—both literally and figuratively— by their community. We hope this will be a moment for all members of our campus community to show up, support, listen, and “hold” those impacted by sexual assault, unhealthy or abusive relationships, and non-consensual sexual experiences at Swarthmore.
Cosigned by Nina Harris, Violence Prevention Educator/Advocate & WRC Advisor
A series of two different flyers posted in various public and private spaces on campus has sparked conversations about activism and Title IX policies at the college.
The flyers were discovered across campus midday Monday by various members of the college community in locations including Mertz residence hall, Parrish hall, and Sharples dining hall. They were printed in black and white on computer paper and included one of two messages in large, bold lettering: “SWAT PROTECTS RAPISTS” or “HAPPY SEXUAL ASSAULT AWARENESS MONTH.” The posters were posted in places containing other student-created flyers, such as the bulletin boards of Parrish, but in other spaces such as Mertz, they were taped prominently to mirrors of a gender-neutral bathroom.
Some of the posters were promptly removed upon discovery, as was the case in Willets residence hall. In Sharples dining hall, “HAPPY SEXUAL ASSAULT AWARENESS MONTH” flyers were left unchanged, but the flyers containing the message “SWAT PROTECTS RAPISTS” were removed by the end of the day on Monday. It is unclear why one flyer was removed from Sharples but the other was left hanging.
When asked about the effects of the flyers on the campus community, Dean of Students Liz Braun noted that the college has worked incredibly hard over the last several years to respond and prevent sexual violence, but recognized that the college was not a perfect institution in these endeavors.
“… There is still much more to be done, and I am committed to working with the Title IX office and our community to continuously build on and evolve our efforts,” Braun said.
She highlighted the team of faculty and staff who work collaboratively with the Title IX office on the support of survivors and the prevention of and response to sexual assault, the original establishment of the Title IX office, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and trainings for students, faculty, and staff as ways that the college is involved in preventing sexual violence around campus. She also noted that nearly 30 students participate in the Title IX Office’s student teams each year.
“We are committed to doing more — wisely and effectively — to create a safe and healthy community,” Braun continued.
Title IX Coordinator Kaaren Williamsen expressed concern over the appearance of the flyers.
“[I] want to make sure folks [know] my door is open if they ever want to talk,” Williamsen said.
President Valerie Smith sent out an email to the student body on April 5 stating that April was designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month on campus and around the country. In the email, Smith highlighted the “Sex & Power: Dinner & Discussion” and “Voices of Healing: A Community Gathering” events and detailed several other resources for students, but did not directly address the presence of the flyers on campus.
Anna Weber ’19, a member of NuWave and a member of the Peer Support Group lead by Violence Prevention Educator/Advocate Nina Harris, made it clear that neither NuWave nor members of the Peer Support Group were involved in the production or distribution of the flyers. Speaking as an individual and not as a representative of either of the groups, Weber felt that the flyers were a way for students to feel connected.
“The flyers tell you that you’re not alone, and the main thing that I would be worried about is showing the people that felt the need to put these flyers up that they also have support systems available to them,” Weber said.
Other students felt that the college adequately supported their needs, to the best of its ability, in these situations.
Title IX Fellow Rebecca Bernstein said the posters made her feel sad and aware that there is work left to be done at the college with regards to sexual violence.
“The flyers show that at least some students at Swarthmore are not feeling heard or like they have any other outlet for their pain,” she noted.
Bernstein explained that the Title IX office is a relatively new office, having been established sometime before the end of 2014, and felt proud of the way the office has broadened its reach and felt grateful for the students who she had been connected to in her two years at the college.
“This issue is far too complex and far too embedded in our culture to change overnight. What I hope for is that all of our students, no matter what their needs are or how much pain they are in, find meaningful resources, support, and healing during the rest of their time at Swarthmore and beyond,” Bernstein continued.
While some of the flyers have been removed, many still remain posted at various campus locations. It is unclear how long they will stay posted.
Starting Monday, Feb. 13 and continuing through Friday, Feb. 17, the Title IX House, in conjunction with other campus organizations, will host five educational and recreational activities during its Healthy Sex and Relationships Week. The week’s activities aims to raise awareness on issues such as interracial and queer relationships, self-love, the female orgasm, and romantic and platonic relationship building. Now in its third year, the program is intended to create inclusive campus dialogue on different aspects of sex and relationships.
Title IX Fellow Becca Bernstein helped to develop this year’s week of activities in association with the Black Cultural Center, the Intercultural Center, the Office for Student Engagement, the Sexual Health Advocates, and the Women’s Resource Center. She sees Healthy Sex and Relationships Week as a program that must adapt as the campus changes and generates more questions and norms with relation to those subjects.
“The series has evolved as student needs have changed and evolved. What are the issues that are coming up for students this year? What are the traditions that we’ve started in years past that we want to continue in the future?” Bernstein said. “These are the questions that have guided Healthy Sex & Relationships Week since its inception and that inform both the changes and what we keep consistent year-to-year.”
Bernstein continued by stating how the goal of this program is to make studies on sex and relationships accessible and enjoyable for the campus and that each student can come to those topics and engage with them. By centering the series around Valentine’s Day, the idea is to capture community attention when much of the campus thinks about romantic topics thanks to other campus events like Screw Your Roommate.
“The main goal is to help students explore, discuss, and celebrate various issues related to healthy sex & relationships in ways that are both educational and fun,” she said. “Our hope is that every student at Swarthmore will see or hear about Healthy Sex & Relationships Week and connect with it, whether it’s walking through Sharples on Valentine’s Day and creating a consent-themed valentine or participating in a meaningful discussion about interracial dating or LGBTQ friendships, family, and relationships.”
Chris Youn ’20 has expressed excitement for the program, and he plans to attend several of the program’s workshops, focusing most of his attention on Monday’s activity on interracial dating co-sponsored by the Black Cultural Center and Friday’s activity on speed-dating and friend-making co-sponsored by the Office for Student Engagement. He does, however, note that the series places expectations on the campus community and its understanding of what sex and relationships are supposed to mean and be. He highlights that other cultures have different views that must be discussed in concert with others, so that the program can be more inclusive.
“Some of [the activities] do strike me as interesting — first of all, the […] conversations on interracial dating. For me, I feel like it’s interesting because, personally, my father would not approve very much of interracial dating just purely due to his background — he didn’t grow up in the states,” he said. “I guess it will be a bit of an interesting perspective, not that I haven’t seen interracial dating or anything like that, but to actually discuss it as a group or a roundtable discussion — that, I think, would be a great experience.”
Youn plans to use this series as a way to enter dialogues to uncover different perspectives and mindsets regarding sex and relationships. He notes that the dissonance between his household and general metropolitan environment gives him different understandings of these topics that he hopes to compare to others’ views.
“Like I mentioned, I would like to gain a new perspective on things, and I feel it is mostly due to the environment in which I grew up,” Youn stated. “I did grow up in a relatively liberal environment, Los Angeles, but then, the family environment was quite the opposite of this, so I did experience both things. At Swat, I like to meet new people, talk about things, and have intelligent discussions on them, not just some silly discussions on them with no concrete information on it. Just to be able to talk to people.”
Bernstein offered that this series is meant to help community members discover different topics regarding different interpersonal relationships with which community members might not be familiar or comfortable.
“A specific goal of ours this year is to get students who might not think Title IX programming is ‘for them’ to try out something during Healthy Sex & Relationships Week. For example, I <3 Female Orgasm is in no way JUST for female-identified students. This week is about everyone at Swarthmore, regardless of sexual or gender identity, and we hope that some folks will come by who haven’t engaged with us before,” Bernstein said.
Youn appreciated this commitment to opening channels of discussion. He outlined how the campus should encounter different perspectives and how the ideas behind these workshops are already being considered by individuals and groups on campus. As an example, Youn, who holds a seat on the board of the Swarthmore Asian Organization, said SAO was considering hosting a tea house to discuss interracial dating. Youn stated that, because so many groups identify sex and relationships as topics in need of campus discussion, the campus has both a need for these activities and the dialogue they will promote, and it should utilize this week of educational opportunities as a means to enter these topics meaningfully.
To guarantee that these ideas stay in circulation and are accessible to the student body, Bernstein offered campus resources, particularly Swarthmore’s Sexual Harassment / Assault Resources and Education website and the Women’s Resource Center for Gender Equity, as ways to stay involved with the week’s topics.
“We always hope that our programs and events will get conversations started outside of the space. To me, a successful event is one that keeps people talking, thinking, wondering how might I integrate this into my life?” she started. “There are a lot of campus resources around issues of sex & relationships — some that are widely known about and some that students still have a lot of questions about. One thing I always like to highlight is there are lots of ways for students to be involved in this work and the ways that students are involved continues to evolve.”
The upcoming Healthy Sex and Relationships Week speaker series has been designed for inclusive discussions to provoke thinking and exploration into these areas in the future. Many students want to become involved in these topics more thoroughly, but others hope that there might be more work in the future, possibly with even more campus groups, to promote thought on different practices and experiences with regards to what it means to have healthy sex and relationships.
Early last Thursday morning, a red t-shirt was found taped to the ground outside of Parrish Hall with the words “Dean Braun is responsible for letting my rapist graduate. There is nothing else I can do but try to ignore it. Happy Sexual Assault ‘Awareness’ Month” written on the front. Hours later, at 8:00 a.m., however, the t-shirt was removed by Public Safety Officers at the behest of administrators concerned about the potentially triggering nature of the shirt’s message. In past years, t-shirts have been hung at the college during the month of April as a part of the Clothesline Project, a national campaign to spread awareness and support for survivors of sexual violence. This year, however, the project was notably omitted from Sexual Assault Awareness Month programming. Since last Thursday, the t-shirt, as well as its removal, have been the subject of speculation and debate, inciting conversation around the freedom survivors have to vocalize their experiences, the contested impact of the Clothesline Project on awareness-raising efforts, and the challenges of healing in a community that has drastically altered its sexual misconduct policies in recent years.
“The Clothesline Project has been a longstanding national project that’s happened for over 30 years at different college campuses,” explained Nina Harris, Violence Prevention Educator and Survivor Advocate at the college. “When I first came to Swarthmore, it was already happening and they gave opportunities for survivors and allies to make t-shirts that communicated messages around their experiences with violence. It was color coded. There were a series of different colored t-shirts that represented different types of violence, so there was violence around sexual orientation, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and incest. There were a variety of shirts and mediums, and people had the opportunity to create their own, and then they were hung in front of Parrish.”
Last spring, however, at the request of survivors who found the process of publically displaying experiences of sexual violence to be highly triggering, organizers of Sexual Assault Awareness Month decided to alter the Clothesline Project significantly, transforming it into a digitized archive instead of a physical installation. While survivors and allies were still given the opportunity to create t-shirts, these shirts — as well as all of the shirts retained in the Title IX Office from previous years — were displayed in a slideshow of photos broadcast during specific hours on the TV in Shane Lounge.
According to AnnaLivia Chen ‘18, who has been a member of the college’s Sexual Assault Awareness Team for the past two years, the digitization of the project represented a clear deviation from the way in which Clothesline Projects are traditionally presented, this more discrete iteration of the event was better suited to current survivor needs.
“There are many people whose voices are not as loud as shirts on Parrish Beach who struggle with the event for a variety of legitimate reasons,” Chen said. “Many survivors do not want to participate … and find the display to be extremely triggering and unavoidable for the week that the clothesline is up. Some feel that it’s an okay way to express emotions but that there is then no way to follow up and no way to support others, for example if there is another survivor whose shirt they identified with and want to try to make connection there.”
Harris expressed similar concerns.
“What was difficult about the Clothesline Project in the past was that it was this very singular event that happened in isolation, and the message there is triggering, and then I’m just going to go about my day and go to class,” Harris explained. “The reason that the Clothesline Project shifted last year was because voices were included that didn’t feel okay to go publicly to push that or say that.
As Harris explained, through consultations with individual students, as well as anonymous letters from survivors, staff in the Title IX Office received a significant amount of feedback, expressing concerns about the project’s upsetting nature and requesting that the shirts be taken down.
This year, in light of these complaints, the Title IX Advisory Team came to the controversial decision to remove all iterations of the Clothesline Project — digital or otherwise — from the college’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month programming. Instead, organizers chose to replace the project with a number of less public, more intimate opportunities for sharing experiences and building connections within the survivor community, many of which were open only to survivors. These events include “Voices of Healing,” a gathering in the Scott Amphitheater for survivors and allies to share stories; “Speak Out,” a chance for survivors to share their experiences with the wider community; a storytelling workshop led by a facilitator from StoryCenter; and an allyship workshop, as well as the survivor meals, which are regularly scheduled throughout the year. According to Chen, these smaller events, which are focused more on creating spaces in which survivors can voice their experiences, describe their processes of healing, and build a network of support within the survivor community, have a number of advantages.
“With Nina and other professional staff present for all three of these events, people were able to follow up if they needed support from trained professionals,” Chen explained. “This also created a space for survivors to identify with each other and make meaningful connections – three of my closest friends were made that night.”
Nevertheless, Chen’s positive experiences with the revisions to this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month programming are not representative of the full dimensionality of survivor experiences on campus. Many current survivors and alumni have since expressed discontent with the discontinuation of the Clothesline Project, particularly on social media, citing the ways in which the project’s removal may serve to diminish the effectiveness of Sexual Assault Awareness Month programming. As made clear by the language of the t-shirt taped outside of Parrish last Thursday, on which quotation marks are placed around the word awareness, some survivors believe that specifically the awareness-raising aims of the Clothesline Project have been left void in the Title IX Office’s new programming, despite the several replacement events scheduled.
According to the National Clothesline Project website’s description of the project’s goals, “It acts as an educational tool for those who come to view the Clothesline; it becomes a healing tool for anyone who makes a shirt — by hanging the shirt on the line, survivors, friends and family can literally turn their back on some of that pain of their experience and walk away; finally it allows those who are still suffering in silence to understand that they are not alone.”
For many, these consciousness-raising and solidarity-building features of the project are achievable only because of the project’s public nature. On Facebook and YikYak, several survivors at the college explained that by physically symbolizing the multitude of diverse experiences that fellow students have had with issues of sexual violence, the campaign reminded survivors that there were others who had suffered in ways similar to them. Several individuals also explained that the “in your face” nature of the Clothesline Project forced the community at large to become aware of the sheer magnitude of survivors associated with the college, something which is lost in more intimate, secluded events, which can be perceived as dictating the way in which victims are allowed to express themselves.
According to Chen, however, these criticisms are not representative of the realities of the new programming.
“While this may sound like it is still trying to silence hardship and anger that is not true in theory or in practice,” Chen explained. “During our first year of Voices of Healing, people shared stories with every range of emotion: despair, depression, hope, anger, resentment, bitterness, support, thoughtfulness, panic, and more. Before Voices, we had a dinner for survivors who had already signed up to speak and we also had a gathering afterwards in the Women’s Resource Center for anyone who attended to decompress, debrief, and do anything else they needed to take care of themselves.”
Ultimately, according to Harris, the divergences in planning from year to year reflect simply the changing needs expressly articulated by survivors on campus. As these individuals change over the years, so too will the programming and policies supported by the college to facilitate healing and raise awareness.
“At the end of the day, it’s not for me to tell survivors how they want to experience their pain,” Harris said. “While I don’t think the people who have organized in the past have reflected the voice of all survivors on campus, I’m lucky to have a position in which i can talk to people confidentially this is how this policy works out it didn’t feel right. We’re constantly asking ourselves, ‘What can we do to make this better?’”
Every young sexually frustrated teenager dreams of the freedom of college. Having sleepovers whenever you want, with whomever you want, and never having to say a thing to your parents. It seems like sex is the one thing everyone is certain happens in college — but is it? And when it does happen, is it good, enjoyable sex? If it’s not, how do you make these encounters better? The Title IX team and the Women’s Resource Center attempted to answer some of these questions, as well as many others in a series of workshops and talks leading up to Valentine’s Day.
Violence Prevention Educator Nina Harris, in collaboration with many others, organized the week of events to discuss sex and relationships on campus. “The narrative shouldn’t just be ‘oh those are the rape prevention people,’ it’s more than that, we’re the good sex people too,” commented Harris. The week included conversations that addressed the good, the bad, and the awkward in different contexts: everything from‘textually active’ a workshop that examined sacred texts and their relationship to sex and relationships, to queer dating, to sexual empowerment and getting what you want out of a sexual encounter. The events presented conversations that are not usually found in formal settings.
“I think it’s really important to create spaces where talking about sex and relationships is fun,” said Becca Bernstein, Title IX Fellow and one of the main organizers of the events. “I really just want students to be able to have some space to think about these issues and have the chance to reflect on their own relationship to sex and relationships.”
The administrators involved in these events, including Harris, Bernstein, Alice Holland and Isaiah Thomas, took charge of creating that space. The staff made an effort to really engage with the topics, in order to create meaningful conversation with students. “[Harris] was pushing to move beyond a thought like ‘if I ask, he’ll think I’m weird’ to questioning why that is weird, or not ‘hot’ and why we should care,” commented Morgin Goldberg ‘19 who attended the Sexual Empowerment event.
The wide range of topics for these workshops came out of student input, mostly based on last year’s Healthy Sex & Relationship week last year. Multiple collaborations with student groups and different committees from the WRC and Title IX liaisons resulted in events that covered all different aspects of sex and relationships students saw as prevalent on campus. Even some of the slogans for the events came from students, such as for the Beyond Hooking Up event, during a Title IX student advisory team meeting, said, “The last time I was on a date was … literally never”.
Students such as Clare Pérez ’18 also helped organize and run the events the person quoted in the flyer for ‘Beyond Hooking Up’. “The main intention for Beyond Hooking Up is that there are ways to meet new people, romantic or not, that isn’t at the frats on a Saturday night or Pub Nite on Thursdays,” Perez stated. The event began with a presentation on intelligent flirting and healthy relationships and included speed dating/friend making, then ended with a mixer to reconnect with people students had met earlier in the night. “We wanted people to walk away feeling more confident in their ability to talk to new people and put themselves out there,” Perez said. These different kinds of social events, outside of Thursday and Saturday nights, can connect people who may not usually cross paths, and in a school as small as Swarthmore, new social events can be a breath of fresh air.
According to Nina Harris, students at Swarthmore have a slightly different mentality around the balance between personal relationships and academics. “I think Swarthmore doubles down on that ‘you’re only here for your academics’ thing,” commented Harris, “I’ve worked at a lot of top tier schools and it felt like the students had a lot more balance in their experience.” At times it can feel like Swat marriages or random hook ups are the only options for students. For many, the focus may be on academics and internships rather than their own relationships, and these events attempt to take time out of busy schedules to reflect on our relationship with relationships. “It’s like you’re all brain and then you’re all genitals,” commented Nina Harris on Swarthmore students’ hook up culture, “you can never just feel fluid in your experience.” This balance between intimacy and workload is something many of us still need to figure out.
The overall theme of the week was to reach out to students in an attempt to help find that balance and build that bridge between academic life and romantic life. The culture of Swarthmore can sometimes be dominated by academics and often times students can forget that college is also about experiences and personal growth rather than just success in class. The WRC and Title IX Office are working to bridge those gaps and offer the tools to make that balance easier for students to find time for themselves.